I've had the pleasure of attending two baseball games this season. The first was a local day game with the WV Power facing the Savannah Sand Gnats at Appalachian Power Park — the Power won 2-1. The second game was over Memorial Day weekend at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio — the Cincinnati Reds took on the Colorado Rockies and scored a 10-3 win.
I'm not a huge sports fan in general, but I have been known to follow baseball from time to time. Somewhere there's a picture of me, maybe a little older than Andrew, just after the Big Red Machine era, sporting a Cincinnati Reds cap. And I've been known to play as well — not very well, of course, but enough to hack through a few innings of backyard ball: the bare patch where the swing set used to be is home plate, and the sewer drain is first base, and the clothesline pole is second, and the rock at the edge of the garden is third. And the teams have maybe two or three players each who play multiple positions and fudge through the lack of a proper batting order by employing ghost runners when necessary. You know the drill.
Those days of backyard ball were nothing like the experience at the Great American Ball Park. Thousands of people in rows and rows and rows of bleachers, Skyline chili and beer and snow cones and drinks, giant bright scoreboards and lights, displays everywhere lighting up with various things — charging bulls when the "Charge!" song was played, and "BRUUUUUUCE" when Jay Bruce stepped up to the plate.
It's been a great year for the Reds. They built up a record of 97-65 in the regular season, taking first place in the National League Central, and today, they played game five against the San Francisco Giants in a postseason best-of-five series. If the Reds won today, they would move on to the National League Championship.
I was listening to the game on WCHS AM on the way to pick up Andrew. It was a tough game following two other tough games — the Reds started the series off strong with two wins in a row only to have the Giants come back with two wins of their own. So today was literally the Big Game. The Giants got two runs followed by a grand slam in the fifth inning, giving them a 6-0 lead. The Reds clawed their way back and were soon within striking distance, and by the bottom of the ninth inning, the score was 6-4. It was a classic setup. The Reds had men on first and second. With one out, Jay Bruce — the potential winning run — stepped up to the plate.
Two quick strikes.
I had parked the car at this point, and it was a good thing. Ten more pitches followed. Jay Bruce hacked away, running up a full count and knocking six balls into foul territory. Each pitch took longer than the last as the pitcher fidgeted and Bruce sweated it out, fans screaming over the radio — with the color commentator adding, "Everyone here at the Great American Ball Park is on their feet!"
On pitch twelve, Jay Bruce connected — and the ball lifted up into left field. The world froze for an instant and anything seemed possible.
And the fly ball dropped into a waiting glove. Jay Bruce was out. One more out, not nearly as dramatic, ended the game — and the Reds' amazing run. They came this close to the National League Championship but lost it today in this heartbreaking finish.
The League Championships start next week, and the World Series isn't until October 24, so yes, there's still baseball to watch. But after this game, and especially this at-bat, it's over for me. I might watch some more but my heart simply won't be in it. Outside, the leaves are changing colors, the temperature is touching the 30s at night, the days are crisp and bright — and Autumn has truly arrived.